What has breastfeeding got to do with me?
Updated: Feb 26, 2022
If you are a human, then you're involved too.
Human Milk's work is dedicated to anyone who has ever breastfed, has ever wanted to breastfeed, or might ever want to in the future. However, if you are a human, were once a baby, intend to become a parent at some point, or just happen to sit next to a mother breastfeeding in a cafe one day, then you're involved too.
I have read the following stats so many times, but they sober me up at every read.
The WHO estimates that around 823,000 infants die globally each year because they are not receiving the protective components found in human milk, alongside 20,000 women who would survive breast cancer with higher breastfeeding rates.
For women, low breastfeeding rates are also associated with an increase in reproductive cancers, heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and postnatal depression.
In the UK alone, according to the last available stats, around 50% of new mothers who want to breastfeed stop in the first 6 weeks, with 8 in 10 saying they didn't want to stop, but could not find the help they needed to overcome the initial challenges they were facing. Increasing the number of babies who are breastfed in the UK could cut the incidence of common childhood illnesses such as ear, chest and gut infections and save the NHS up to £50 million each year.
Women are passionate about breastfeeding with good reason.
But we can't always achieve what we set out to when we're part of a structure that does not know how to catch us if we fall, does not know how to have our backs, or even why they would need to. Even some healthcare professionals are included in the rather long list of people who do not believe there is much point to breastfeeding.
The reason Human Milk exists is so that the next mother gets the help that the one who came before her needed and deserved.
In many ways, we work even more so for the mothers who did not reach their own goals. Who struggled to get support whilst breastfeeding, or struggled to breastfeed at all.
Because whilst we work as far and wide as we can to reach as many mothers and fathers as possible, we constantly reiterate that "educating mothers" is not the bottom line. The onus is not on individual mothers. Empowering women is very much the point, but that also means getting obstacles out of their way, and we all participate in that.
This article by Prof Amy Brown highlights some of those obstacles, and what we can do about it.
"At least a third of the UK public think breastfeeding in public is wrong, a figure that is even higher in the USA and France. Instead, more people in the UK think it is acceptable for a baby to be fed in the toilet than in a restaurant. Tabloid newspapers scream the same headlines over and over of women thrown off planes, trains and automobiles (well a bus, but yes seriously) … shops, restaurants, swimming pools … the list goes on. Unsurprisingly women are affected by this, with public attitudes stopping women from feeding in public, and ultimately then being part of the reason that they stop altogether.
Many people’s primary view of the breast is of something sexual, encouraged by the fact that unlike breastfeeding, we are used to seeing breasts in their sexual form everywhere. This is fine, breasts are great to look at, but you don’t get to support one and not the other. "
(Thank you Amy for writing that part of this blog for me!!)
There's a huge bunch of us here to help.
We provide free multi-media resources used in over 35 countries for training and education on the science of human milk, so that we can communicate to all our communities why breastfeeding and donor milk matter so much, with the aim of co-creating a more equitable, healthy, sustainable future for all of us messy and sometimes really wonderful humans. Please feel free to help yourselves.
If you are worried about breastfeeding working for you, or struggling with breastfeeding and reading this, know that there are many of us out there (or in here, in your social media apps and possibly in your local community too) who can and will help you. Reach out! Whether you're struggling physically, or "just" feeling lonely, the online world has opened up a huge network that's available where there might have been nothing before.
Dr Chen Mao Davies, an Oscar and BAFTA winning Visual Effects creator even set her skills to work to create the Latchaid app that accompanies you on your journey with interactive 3D animations, virtual breastfeeding support groups and 24/7 support.
Human Milk also have some juicy information for onlooking humans here about how you can be part of a positive eco-system for the breastfeeding mothers you live with or encounter.
Breastfeeding is an act with far reaching consequences on the health of our species.
Welcome to the team. You're on it and have influence, whether you want it or not.